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Aviation Flight Physicals

Dr. Darla Edinger is a designated Senior Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to perform all three classes of FAA medical certificates.

To fly a plane, aviators need a pilot’s license and a medical certificate. That involves getting a physical from a doctor who is an FAA-certified AME. Commercial airline transport pilots need first-class medical certificates from senior AMEs with two to three years of experience. These pilots must receive physicals every year until age 39. At 40, they need a flight physical every six months. Second-class certificates are for commercial pilots including those who fly charters or do crop dusting, or who serve as navigators or first officers on commercial flights. They need a flight physical every year. The third-class certificate covers recreational and private pilots. Before age 40, they must have a flight physical every five years; after age 40, they need one every two years.

FAA medical certificate requirements

The FAA has mandated the physical and psychological standards that must be met prior to granting certification for individuals acting as pilot in command or serving as required crew members of any type of aircraft, including student pilots. Certain FAA employees such as air traffic controllers must hold a valid Airman Medical Certificate. Some employers, including businesses not engaged in aviation, require their employees to meet FAA flight physical standards (for example, certain types of maritime operators).
Barring any changes in a pilot's medical status, each class of examination has a specific expiration date as outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR part 61.23). The validity of each exam class is based on a calendar month.

Three Classes

There are three classes of FAA medical certificates, each with a more restrictive set of physical standards. Any pilot may apply for any class of medical certification, but most pilots apply for the class most applicable to their flying activity.

  • Class I examination is typically reserved for scheduled commercial airline transport pilots.
  • Class II examination is required for commercial pilots, including corporate aviators, crop dusters, aero-medical pilots, charter pilots, or navigators and first officers of commercial airline flights.
  • Class III examinations are used for recreational or private pilots.

Length of certification

  • Class I: 6 calendar months if older than age 40 at the time of evaluation; 12 months if younger than age 40
  • Class II: 12 calendar months
  • Class III: 60 months if younger than age 40 at the time of evaluation; 24 months if age 40 or older at the time of evaluation 

Pilot Medical Certification Questions and Answers

Who must hold a Medical Certificate?

Who must hold a Medical Certificate?

Any person exercising the privileges of any of the following certificates: airline transport pilot certificate, commercial pilot certificate, private pilot certificate, recreational pilot certificate, flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command if serving as a required pilot flight crewmember), flight engineer certificate, flight navigator certificate, or student pilot certificate. Except for a person employed by the FAA, a branch of the military services or the Coast Guard, a person acting as an air traffic control tower operator also must hold a medical certificate.

What is a medical certificate?

What is a medical certificate?

Under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Part 1, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines a medical certificate as “acceptable evidence of physical fitness on a form prescribed by the Administrator.” The primary goal of the airman medical certification program is to protect not only those who would exercise the privileges of a pilot certificate but also air travelers and the general public.

A person who meets FAA airmen medical standards, based on a medical examination and an evaluation of medical history, is entitled to a medical certificate without restriction or limitation other than the prescribed limitation as to its duration. Individuals required to hold a medical certificate must have it in their personal possession at all times when exercising the privileges for which they are licensed.

What medical standards must I meet in order to qualify for a medical certificate?

What medical standards must I meet in order to qualify for a medical certificate?

The medical standards for each class of medical certificate are set forth in www.ecfr.gov.

What medical conditions does the FAA consider disqualifying?

What medical conditions does the FAA consider disqualifying?

The following conditions are listed in the regulations as disqualifying medical conditions; however, in many cases when the condition is adequately controlled, the FAA will issue medical certification contingent on periodic reports.

  • Angina pectoris
  • Bipolar disease
  • Cardiac valve replacement
  • Coronary heart disease that has been treated or, if untreated, that has been symptomatic or clinically significant 
  • Diabetes mellitus requiring hypoglycemic medications 
  • Disturbance of consciousness without satisfactory explanation of cause
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart replacement
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Permanent cardiac pacemaker
  • Personality disorder that is severe enough to have repeatedly manifested itself by overt acts
  • Psychosis
  • Substance abuse
  • Substance dependence
  • Transient loss of control of nervous system function(s) without satisfactory explanation of cause.
  • Other conditions not specifically listed in the regulations are also disqualifying.

For further information refer to the Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners.

What class of medical certificate must I hold and how long is it valid?

What class of medical certificate must I hold and how long is it valid?

A first-class airman medical certificate is required to exercise the privileges of an airline transport pilot certificate.

A first class medical certificate is valid for the remainder of the month of issue; plus

  • 6 calendar months for operations requiring a first class medical certificate if the airman is age 40 or over on or before the date of the examination, or
  • 12-calendar months for operations requiring a first-class medical certificate if the airman has not reached age 40 on or before the date of examination, or
  • 12 calendar months for operations requiring a second class medical certificate, or
  • 24 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate if the airman is age 40 or over on or before the date of the examination, or
  • 60 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate if the airman has not reached age 40 on or before the date of examination. *

A second-class airman medical certificate is required for commercial, non-airline duties (e.g., for crop dusters, corporate pilots) and is valid for 1 year plus the remainder of the days in the month of examination. Those exercising the privileges of a flight engineer certificate, a flight navigator certificate, or acting as air traffic control tower operator must hold a second-class airman medical certificate.

A second class medical certificate is valid for the remainder of the month of issue; plus

  • 12 calendar months for operations requiring a second class medical certificate, or
  • 24 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate, if the airman is age 40 or over on or before the date of the examination, or
  • 60 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate if the airman has not reached age 40 on or before the date of examination. *

A third-class airman medical certificate is required to exercise the privileges of a private pilot certificate, recreational pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate, or a student pilot certificate.

A third-class medical certificate is valid for the remainder of the month of issue; plus

  • 24 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate, if the airman is age 40 or over on or before the date of the examination, or
  • 60 calendar months for operations requiring a third class medical certificate if the airman has not reached age 40 on or before the date of examination. *

What are the minimum and maximum ages for obtaining a medical certificate?

What are the minimum and maximum ages for obtaining a medical certificate?

There are no minimum or maximum ages for obtaining a medical certificate. Any applicant who is able to pass the exam may be issued a medical certificate.

However, since 16 years is the minimum age for a student pilot certificate, people under 16 are unlikely to have practical use for an airman medical certificate.

Source:  http://www.faa.gov/